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Violence at the National Zoo
with D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey

Wednesday, April 26, 2000
1 p.m. EDT

Charles H. Ramsey
Charles H. Ramsey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com

Monday's annual African American family celebration at the National Zoo was shattered by gunfire. Seven youths between the ages of 11 and 16 were wounded, one gravely. The incident has thrown communities into turmoil, leaving many D.C. residents looking for answers. Last night, a 16-year-old suspect was apprehended in connection with the shooting, after District police found him hiding in the basement of his grandparents' home.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey joins us today to discuss how police apprehended the suspect, concerns about gun violence in the District, and the latest developments of the investigation.

Below is today's transcript:






Charles H. Ramsey: Hello. This is Chief Ramsey of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. I look forward to spending the next hour with you discussing your issues, in particular your thoughts and concerns on the problem of youth violence.


VA: What was the reaction of the crowd after the shootings? It looked like many people were still walking around afterward - as if there was no concern about a gunman on the loose.

Charles H. Ramsey: Immediately following the shooting, the scene was somewhat chaotic. Our officers did a very good job of identifying and detaining witnesses. Emergency medical teams responded very quickly and were able to evacuate the victims to the hospital. Some of what you may have observed on television was simply families trying to reunite and locate members of the party that may have been scattered as a result of the confusion that followed the shooting.


WDC: How did you find the suspect? How did he react when you arrested him? Were his grandparents knowledgeable about the incident?

Charles H. Ramsey: We were very fortunate that so many witnesses stepped forward with information about the incident and the person responsible. Detectives were able to identify the individual, his last known address, as well as places where he was known to frequent. They obtained the necessary arrest and search warrants, and apprehended the suspect at the home of his grandmother. It's important to remember that it was the cooperation of the public that led to the speedy arrest of the suspect. We need that same kind of cooperation in ALL of our cases. The suspect did not offer any resistance when he was taken into custody. It is unknown as to whether or not his grandmother knew of his involvement in the incident.


Laurel, Maryland: A local TV news report showed a teenage African American male saying something along the lines of "it was an argument, you gotta do what you gotta do." This scares me more than the actual shooting. If this is really the attitude of teenagers in big cities - can the police do anything to protect them from themselves? Are there any ways to combat this attitude?

Charles H. Ramsey: It's important for us to remember that the majority of young people in our city are decent, law-abiding citizens who do not engage in these types of violent activities. There is, however, a significant number of people in general who appear to lack the capacity to manage their anger and frustration in a way that does not involve violence. There are different courses that teach people how to manage anger and resolve conflicts without resorting to violent behavior. I applaud School Superintendent Ackerman's proposal to include conflict resolution as part of the core curriculum for our students. This is an important step toward changing young peoples' attitudes toward violence. But these efforts should not stop there. Parents and other adults need to take a new look at the way in which violence is promoted as entertainment, through music, videos and television. All too often, we as adults seem to instill in our young people the notion that violence solves problems -- when, in fact, violence only leads to more violence. So we really need a wide-ranging approach to this problem.


wash dc: Hello, Chief Ramsey. Thanks for taking questions. And good job on the IMF/World Bank protest weekend.

What do you think it will take to get an influential member of the African-American community to stand up and say, "Enough. Let's get our communities under control"? I'm talking about someone like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Jesse Jackson...

Jesse Jackson was very vocal about making sure the young black men involved in a high school fight weren't suspended. Why doesn't anyone spend equal effort trying to stop the carnage? I think the white community is powerless to help; it has to come from within.

Charles H. Ramsey: Many influential leaders in the African-American community have already stepped forward to denounce violence. But all of us must assume a role in our respective communities. In particular, it is the people who have day-to-day contact with our young people who should provide the leadership and support that are critical. We all need to lead by example.


NE DC: Why did the police seem to be fumbling after the shooting? At one point they even said the kid was dead! Did they just not know what was going on?

Charles H. Ramsey: Police officers who initially responded to the scene, as well as emergency medical services personnel, did an outstanding job from the very beginning. The Police Department did not inform the media that someone had died as a result of their injuries. We did report that one of the victims was listed in "grave condition," suffering from a bullet wound to the head. We are all pleased to learn that his condition has since been upgraded to "critical," and we can only pray that he and all the victims fully recover not only from their physical injuries, but also from the emotional trauma this crime caused.


WDC: What are your thoughts on the mentality of inner-city youths who witness gun violence? Do you find that they become immune to acts of violence since they see so much more than youths who, say for instance, live in suburban neighborhoods?

Charles H. Ramsey: First of all, I think we should all avoid stereotyping all the young people living in the inner city. The vast majority of them are typical youngsters -- going to school, concerned about their future, and trying to make their communities a better place to live and work. However, far too many of our young people are exposed to violence on an all-too-regular basis. I suspect many young people suffer from what's known as "post-traumatic stress disorder." This particular disorder can affect performance in school, social interactions and almost every other aspect of their lives. Our response to the problem of violence in our communities must take this into account, and provide the type of counseling and support our young people need to overcome the trauma they experience as a result of being the victim of, or exposed to, violence.


Washington , DC: The Honorable Ramesy: You are doing a wonderful job in guiding the Metropolitan Police Department and the city in these inordinate times will are living in. My question to you Sir: Why was the Zoo Officials allowed to police this annual event with their personnel only? Your staff and department know that the potential of violence is great among a large group of youth in a particular setting in this city. How did you guys arrive at a decision to allow this event to go on without any back-up?

Charles H. Ramsey: This is an annual event that families have enjoyed for decades without any significant problems. Officials at the National Zoo had no reason to believe that this year's event would be any different from previous year's. In the future, the Metropolitan Police Department will work with the National Zoo Police to ensure a sufficient police presence at special events. It's important, however, not to over-react to this one isolated incident. We do not want to send a message that certain groups or events require a substantially greater police presence than others. We take a sensible approach as we attempt to provide the environment of safety and comfort they need to enjoy themselves.


Washingtonpost.com: Where are you looking for the missing gun? What kind of equipment is necessary? And do you think you are close to finding the gun?

Charles H. Ramsey: We are in the process of trying to locate the weapon that was used in the commission of this crime. We are optimistic that we will be able to locate it. Once located, the weapon will be sent to our crime laboratory for examination.


Washingtonpost.com: To what extent did witnesses and informants help with this investigation? We understand as many as 80 witnesses were interviewed. Was that unusual?

Charles H. Ramsey: I'm not sure of the exact number, but there were numerous witnesses who stepped forward and provided information on this case. That, coupled with the hard work of the detectives assigned to the case, led to the swift arrest of the suspect. Unfortunately, it is unusual for this large a group of witnesses to step forward. In some of our violent crimes, it is difficult to get even one witness to step forward. This just highlights the need for people to get involved in helping us solve crimes in our communities.


NW DC: I live in the apartment building across the street from the zoo. When the shooting took place, I had almost arived home. I want to say that I was very impressed with how quickly the police arrived on the scene and how thoroughly the traffic was blocked off at different places on Connecticut Avenue. I think that the police did an excellent job getting everything under control considering the number of people that were still inside the zoo, and the fact that everyone was trying to find each other after they intially dispersed from the were the shooting took place. Keep up the good work.

Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you very much for your comments. I think that people recognize the high level of professionalism that does exist in the MPD, in light of our handling of the IMF/World Bank event and the incident at the Zoo. I am proud of our Department's progress, but recognize that much more needs to be done. Thank you -- and the many other people who have sent letters and e-mails praising the work of the members of our Department. It has been a solid boost for their morale.


Lorton, VA: The first news reports indicated this was a gang-related shooting. Has that been substantiated?

Charles H. Ramsey: It has not been substantied that this was a gang-involved shooting. From information we have received, it appears this is as much an example of a lack of an ability to control anger as it is anything else. At least two groups were involved in an altercation and, unfortunately, it escalated to the point where the suspect resorted to violence. The investigation is ongoing, and we will continue to look to see if, in fact, there is any gang connection in this case.


DC, Ward 4: Hey Chief Ramsey,

Keep up the good work.

Do we need stricter enforcement and prosecution of gun violations in our city?

Like the rampant wave of red-light running that became standard behavior in the eighties and ninties when there was NEVER any enforcement of traffic laws, I'm afraid that since no one is ever significantly punished for possessing guns, there is no incentive to NOT carry one.

I no longer let my kids just go out and play. And I rarely take walks in my Northwest neighborhood any more.

Your thoughts?

Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you for the compliment. The District of Columbia has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. But unfortunately we remain plagued with the problem of gun violence. A recent study showed that 55 percent of the guns recovered in the District that were used in the commission of a crime were purchased in either Virginia or Maryland. I say that only to point out that unless all states adopted stricter gun laws, we will always be vulnerable to crimes committed with guns. Strict enforcement and prosecution of gun violations are important. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia has recently announced Operation CeaseFire, which like its counterpart in Richmond, Virginia (Project Exile), will enhance the penalty of persons convicted of a crime in which a handgun was used. I believe the strict enforcement and prosecution of offenders that use guns to commit their crimes will serve as a strong deterrent. Our goal is to see to it that you and all residents of the District will be able to enjoy their neighborhoods to their fullest extent, and live free of the fear of crime.


Washington, DC: After serving on a grand jury in the Superior Court for six weeks, seeing the police presence in my neighborhood on Y2K night and seeing you take the forefront on so many police issues, I want to thank you for your efforts. How much longer do you plan on serving as chief? This DC resident really appreciates your efforts

Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you for your kind words. As long as I can make a positive contribution to our city, I hope to remain as your police chief.


Springfield, MA: Have you resorted to metal detctors at the zoo. And what has changed there in the way of security.

Charles H. Ramsey: The primary responsibility for security at the National Zoo rests with the National Zoo Police. The role of the Metropolitan Police Department is one of support, whenever our assistance is requested. The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution, and any decision relative to metal detector would be made by them. In my opinion, however, I think metal detectors at this point would be an overreaction to this isolated incident. The Zoo, national monuments, museums and other national treasures in our city are safe. People should feel free to come and enjoy all that Washington, D.C., has to offer.


Washington DC:
After all the confusion of the fights that broke out at the zoo and what followed during the shooting, are you confident that you have apprehended the correct person?

Charles H. Ramsey: Yes, we are confident, based on witness statements and physical evidence, that we have the offender in this case.


Los Angeles, CA: Chief Ramsey:

Thanks for having this discussion.

I've read several articles suggesting that this incident is "gang-related." Although I haven't lived in D.C. for several years, I don't remember "gang violence" being an issue in D.C. the way it is in, say, Los Angeles. Do you believe this incident is "gang-related?" And is "gang violence" a growing problem in Washington?

Thanks again.

Charles H. Ramsey: We are not certain if this particular incident was gang-related, but I would like to address the issue of gangs in D.C. There does appear to be more involvement in gangs in the District than has been acknowledged in years past. It's important to note, however, that the gangs (or "crews" as they call themselves here) are not quite as sophisticated as they are in cities such as yours. We have begun addressing the problem in a couple of ways. One is a gang intervention strategy that will focus on programs designed to prevent gang involvement or intervene before young gang members reach the point of "no return." This will include a program very similar to the one in Boston that involves strong partnerships with our faith-based community. Mentoring programs that help provide young people with positive role models, job skills that they can use, and life skills training will also be a part of this strategy. The reality, however, is that all young people will not be reached through these type of measures. We are in the process of establishing a gang intelligence/enforcement unit that will focus on those hard-core gang members who continue to cause harm to our communities. Those individuals who are committing crimes will be arrested and prosecuted.


Centreville VA: Chief, Great job with the IMF protesters. Thanks for not letting them take over our nations capital. Will the young man arrested for the zoo shootings be tried as an adult or will he be slapped on the hand and sent back to his grandparents? Also thank you from the Starbucks families for not giving up on the finding the killer, Do you think that he should have gotten the death penalty?

Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you for your compliment on our Department's handling of the IMF/World Bank event. I am very proud of the men and women of the MPD, and all the law enforcement agencies in the region, that participated. I understand that the U.S. Attorney's Office has decided to try the suspect as an adult in this case. He is charged with seven counts of Assault with Intent to Kill (AWIK), a very serious crime. I am also very pleased that we able to bring the Starbucks case to a successful conclusion. Once again, all those involved in the investigation of this case should be commended. I am satisfied with the court's decision to sentence Mr. Cooper to life in prison without parole. I hope that this brings some measure of closure for the families, who will spend the rest of their lives without the benefit of enjoying their loved ones who were the victims of this heinous crime.


Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you to everyone who participated in this chat. I enjoyed spending time responding to your questions, and am sorry I could not get to every question. I hope we can do this again in the future. This type of dialogue is enlightening to me, and important for the community as we work to address the critical issues of public safety in our Nation's Capital. Thanks again.


Washingtonpost.com: Thank you Chief Ramsey for answering questions for over an hour about the serious concerns over gun violence. We look forward to seeing you again.


Washingtonpost.com: To continue this discussion about the National Zoo Shootings, visit our Metro Talk message boards.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

 

 
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